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Coylumbridge Hotel: What has happened to once revered Highland establishment that now racks up one-star reviews?

Pauline Johnstone has listed a catalogue of complaints about the Coylumbridge Hotel.
Pauline Johnstone has listed a catalogue of complaints about the Coylumbridge Hotel.

A mother was left angry and upset after her family endured their “worst holiday in the worst hotel” in Aviemore.

Former teacher Pauline Johnstone sent a catalogue of complaints to Britannia Hotels following a six-night stay at the Coylumbridge Hotel costing more than £1,500.

Based on the experiences of nearly 200 others this summer, she’s not alone.

The hotel has been reviewed on TripAdvisor 204 times since the beginning of June.

A total of 75% of those, amounting to 153 reviews, have rated the hotel one-star.

The hotel was taken over by Britannia Hotels in 2019.

Numerous reviews said they would have offered zero stars if it was possible.

The Coylumbridge Hotel has an average score of 1.55 out of five across that period.

Over the same summer period in 2018, six months before it was taken over by Britannia Hotels, it scored an average of 3.64 out of five.

What are the complaints?

The hotel promotes itself as ‘the perfect escape for an unforgettable family vacation’.

Its website boasts a ‘We’re Good To Go’ certificate, recognising it follows government and industry Covid-19 guidelines, including on cleanliness.

Mrs Johnstone, 50, said the hotel was “filthy” and a “shambles”.

She listed grievances about the facility’s appearance, hygiene, cleanliness, food, queues, closed attractions and management attitude.

These include –

• Buying her own cleaning products to clean the family’s hotel room

• Making her son and his friend keep their shoes on because the bedroom was so dirty

• Buying food for the children as the hotel meals were “awful” and identical the whole week

• A children’s play area and other facilities were shut

The family was offered a 10% refund and a discounted rate for a return visit, which Mrs Johnstone said was “a slap in the face”.

She said: “It was just awful. The hotel is very badly run. It looks like they are running it into the ground.

It was filthy. I certainly wouldn’t go back.

Pauline Johnstone

“It was filthy. I certainly wouldn’t go back.

“It’s a beautiful part of the country, but I feel Britannia Hotels are letting down the area badly.”

‘The worst holiday’

Mrs Johnstone, from Dundee, visited the Coylumbridge with her husband, 12-year-old son and her son’s friend.

The stay from July 11 to 17 cost £1,517.

She said guests were queuing for 90 minutes to check in.

She was told staff shortages were caused by half the workforce walking out a few days before.

In a letter to the hotel she complained: “This six nights break was supposed to be a relaxing time for my family after the struggles of the last year.

“It turned out to be the worst holiday and the worst hotel we have ever stayed in.”

Mrs Johnstone said dirty plates were left lying

She recalled her husband waiting 40 minutes to be served at the bar.

Guests also queued for 20 minutes to enter the dining room and a further 15 minutes for food.

Mrs Johnstone, who is disabled from a work accident and uses crutches, was not offered help or invited to go to the front of the queue.

She added: “The hygiene in the hotel was disgusting at a time when cleanliness is more important than ever.

“Never once, in all the time we were there, did we see anyone cleaning surfaces, toilets, carpets, tables, windows.”

How has the hotel responded?

Replying to Mrs Johnstone’s complaint, Mark Johnston, the hotel’s general manager, offered a 10% refund and a discounted rate for a return stay.

He said the discounted offer was made as “our services did not meet your expectations”.

Pauline Johnstone sent a catalogue of complaints to the hotel

The offer of a return stay “would demonstrate the level of service we would expect our customers to receive and to restore your faith with our company”.

He added: “This is our final offer and no further offer will be made. Any further correspondence in relation to the above will not be responded to.

“This is our final communication on this matter.”

The Press and Journal’s calls to the Coylumbridge Hotel and Britannia Hotels were not returned.

How have other reviewers rated the hotel?

In the last week alone, the hotel’s reviews have seen it called “very poor”, “dirty” and “the Highlands’ answer to Fawlty Towers”.

Local councillor Bill Lobban said: “It’s really important that, as we emerge from the pandemic, everyone realises that Aviemore is one of Scotland’s leading tourist resorts.

“The quality of accommodation provided is essential to maintain that position.”

A VisitScotland spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on an individual complaint.

Councillor Bill Lobban.

The internationally-recognised ‘We’re Good to Go’ scheme was launched last year.

It is aimed at providing confidence for visitors and communities that businesses are sticking to government and public health guidelines.

Businesses complete a self-assessment and advisors carry out random calls to ensure guidance is understood and being met.

First minister condemned hotel’s actions

Last August, a family said they cut short their stay at the Coylumbridge after suffering flea bites.

Earlier in the year, the hotel sent letters to around a dozen employees, ending their contracts and instructing them to leave staff accommodation following the Covid outbreak.

It led to outrage locally and first minister Nicol Sturgeon “unreservedly condemned” the hotel’s actions.

Britannia Hotels later said the letter was sent to workers due to an administrative error.

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